Classic Rarity, 1796 Quarter, B-2, MS641796 25C MS64 NGC. B-2, R.3. The year 1796 was significant as the first time that the Mint was able to actually produce all coinage denominations authorized by the Mint Act of 1792. The quarter, dime, and quarter eagle were all minted for the first time in this year. Earlier, priority had been given to the more prestigious large denominations, and to the smaller coins that were indispensable in daily transactions. The small demand for the quarter is reflected in its minuscule mintage of 6,146 pieces. The public must have found the new coins interesting, if not very useful. A relatively large number of examples were saved as curiosities, or in bank vaults, and the issue is available in all grades today. After 1796, the denomination was not produced again until 1804, by which time the reverse had been changed to the Heraldic Eagle design. Thus, the 1796 quarter is one of the few one-year type coins.
The quarter was an inherently difficult coin to produce. The specified weight was 6.74 grams, with a composition of .8924 silver and .1076 copper. The designed diameter of the coin was 27.5 mm. The edge was reeded. To contain the specified amount of metal in a coin with such a large diameter the planchets had to be unusually thin. The planchets were cut from sheets of metal of the required composition that were repeatedly drawn through horse powered rollers. The distance between the rollers was reduced with each pass until the desired thickness was attained. Before each pass, the metal sheets were annealed to make the metal softer and more ductile. It was necessary to repeat this process more times than usual to prepare the quarter planchets. In addition to the extra work involved in rolling, many of the planchets became brittle because of the repeated annealing. When the coins were struck on the screw press, some of the brittle planchets developed edge splits, and small pieces of metal broke off. The effects of this process can be seen on many 1796 quarters today.
Collectors have prized the 1796 issue since the earliest days of the hobby. An auction appearance is recorded as early as the A.C. Kline Sale (M. Thomas & Sons, 6/1855), lot 261. In his new book, Early United States Quarters 1796- 1838, Steve Tompkins notes the following combination of special factors that account for the outstanding popularity of the issue:
1. It is a one-year type coin.
2. It is the first date of issue for the denomination.
3. It is listed as a separate type in the Red Book.
4. It is the only quarter with an 18th century date.
The small mintage of 1796 quarters was split between two obverse die varieties, identified by the position of the numeral 6 in the date. The present coin is from the more available B-2 obverse design, characterized by the high 6 in the date. Tompkins notes that the B-2 variety appears at auction approximately three times more often than the B-1. Extrapolating from the recorded mintage figure, Tompkins theorizes that slightly more than 4,000 examples of the original mintage may have been B-2s and a little less than 2,000 were B-1s. Mint records show four deliveries of 1796 quarters. Warrant # 61 of 1,800 pieces was delivered on 4/9/1796. Warrant # 63 of 2,530 pieces was delivered on 5/27/1796. Warrant # 65 of 1,564 pieces was delivered on 6/14/1796. Finally, Warrant # 81 of 252 pieces was delivered on 2/28/1797. If Warrant # 61 and Warrant # 63 were B-2s, then the total number of coins of this variety would have been 4,330 specimens. If the other warrants contained B-1 examples, the total would be 1,816 pieces. These numbers correspond closely to the estimates extrapolated from the auction appearance ratio. Tompkins acknowledges that this result may be just mathematical coincidence, but the statistics fit well with the observed data.
The strike is particularly sharp on this example, especially on the obverse. Crisp detail shows in all devices, even star centrils and hair strands are bold. The reverse has a better than average strike, with some detail showing on the eagle's head. The eagle's nostril shows plainly, a detail rarely seen on this variety. The fields are free of distractions and lovely lilac and gray toning accent both sides. Stunning eye appeal. Steve Tompkins lists this coin as tied for #4 in his Condition Census.
From The Scott Rudolph Collection.
See: Video Lot Description(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 23RA, PCGS# 5310)
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